01/24/2013 10:38 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

Letter to the President

Congratulations on your reelection and the inauguration of your second term!

You confounded the skeptics who thought you would be a one-term aberration. More importantly, you defeated your relentless Republican enemies who devoted the last four years to doing everything in their power to make you a one-term president, even when it meant inflicting serious damage on the country in the process. In spite of the huge amounts of money devoted to your defeat, widespread voter suppression activities, a coordinated campaign of blatant lies about your accomplishments and intentions -- not to mention your nationality and religion -- you prevailed. And, most commendably, you prevailed with dignity, integrity, grace and good humor, never stooping anywhere close to the depths to which your opponents were willing to sink in their efforts to defeat you. You represent what is best about America, while your enemies -- far from being the type of honorable political adversaries who deserve our respect -- have exemplified the worst.

You have delivered, to the best of your ability and in the face of the adverse forces confronting you, what those of us who supported you in your 2008 campaign and were behind you for the past four years could reasonably expect. Be assured that you will continue to have our support in your battle to make America live up to its ideals and thwart those who will surely do everything in their power to impose their retrograde vision on the country and continue to advance the interests of the most wealthy and powerful segments of society.

The priorities you laid out in your inaugural address deserve our wholehearted support, including your uncompromising commitment to inclusiveness, social and economic justice, and progressive policies in general. We applaud your uncompromising positions on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as on comprehensive gun control measures and equal rights for gays.

Latino voters gave you a pass during your first term, recognizing that you were being savaged by people who were not their friends. You were unable to convince Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform or even the DREAM Act. However, you accomplished the purposes of the Dream Act by Executive Order which was the right thing to do for the young people involved and for the country as a whole. Latino voters played a key role in your reelection and it is gratifying to hear that you will do right by them. This includes giving comprehensive immigration reform the very highest priority so that the 11 million undocumented people who have been working and contributing to the country for years are treated fairly at last.

We have serious problems of wealth and income inequality, as well as massive unrelieved poverty, which will threaten the social fabric of the country, if not addressed urgently and effectively. Therefore, above all else, Mr. President, you must do everything in your power to tackle these interconnected crises because, unless they receive immediate attention, nothing else will make much difference.

Consider the facts, as laid out by the Census Bureau: Half of the jobs in the U. S. currently pay less than $34,000 per year and a quarter pay less than $22,000, the amount that is needed to raise a family of four out of poverty, according to the government's far-from-generous calculation of a family's absolute minimum requirements for food, clothing and shelter. Almost half of the poor -- 44.4 percent or 15.6 million Americans -- have incomes that do not even reach the official poverty line and are, therefore, living in extreme poverty. African Americans, Latinos and children are overrepresented in these ranks. If this is not a disgraceful situation in the wealthiest country in the world, I do not know what would be.

When we consider the near-poor or vulnerable middle-class, the figures are almost as alarming. The Census Bureau estimates that 103 million Americans -- almost one-third of us -- live in families whose incomes meet their minimum subsistence requirements but may not be sufficient to pay for doctor or dentist visits, transportation, household repairs, or other emergencies. These families are the victims of the stagnation we have seen in wage rates since the 1970s. Their earnings have increased less than one percent per year over that period while industrial productivity, corporate profits, and the income and wealth of the top one percent have all soared.

A couple of the most egregious examples will illustrate the gross inequality that has been allowed to develop over the last few decades. In 1979, the top one percent earned nine percent of all income but, by 2007, they were receiving 23.5 percent, an increase of 275 percent, while wages stagnated. The top 0.1 percent saw their income increase even more -- by 390 percent over that same period. The data about the widening of the wealth gap are just as alarming. While the top one percent owned 1,400 times that owned by the bottom 40 percent in 1983, that ratio had increased to 4,400 by 2001. The magnitude of these disparities in income and wealth has not been seen in most of our lifetimes.

If we were all sharing the fruits of the overall growth in the economy that has occurred since World War II, if everyone had a living wage and there was no preventable poverty -- if the rising economic tide had raised all boats -- there might be little reason to call for radical change in the way the economy functions. But, clearly, that is not the case and we need urgent action on many fronts and the strong political leadership that will be required to bring about the needed reforms. First of all, we need much more progressive tax rates on corporations, higher-income individuals and the wealthy, along with the elimination of the billions of dollars worth of giveaways, deductions and loopholes that have enabled these groups to pay lower effective rates than ordinary working people -- in some cases, no taxes at all.

We need this lost revenue, along with the savings generated from sensible cuts to the defense budget, to rebuild the schools, roads, bridges, dams, levees, airports, harbors and other infrastructure that enabled the wealthy to prosper but have been neglected for decades by the greed of the anti-tax ideologues among them. Likewise, the public services -- education, parks, mass transit, libraries, fire protection. law enforcement -- have been starved for funds. A massive national investment in all of these areas, as well as in renewable energy, will restore or create millions of well-paying jobs. And job creation -- a full employment policy like we had in the three decades after World War II -- needs to take precedence over any domestic budget cutting. Austerity measures, as many distinguished economists -- most notably Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Reich -- have been arguing, simply hamper economic recovery in the short run and the ability to balance the budget in the longer term.

Finally, you need to continue to speak up, as you did in your inaugural address, for those who have been characterized by the Republicans as "takers," usually with an underlying racial message. The decimated social safety net that is part of our compact with our fellow Americans -- that we will not abandon them in their time of need -- must be repaired. We cannot have millions of Americans living in dire poverty -- many working full-time -- while the tax-dodging elite purchase bigger and better yachts, more private jets, countless offshore havens, and the best lobbyists and lawmakers that money can buy.